City Hall Portrait Collection

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A Brief History

Governor's Room
The Governor's Room in City Hall is home to many of the portraits in the collection. Photograph by David Zadeh.

The City Hall Portrait Collection offers a visual history of people whose actions and contributions made a significant impact on New York City and the United States. The collection includes portraits of United States presidents, New York State governors, New York City mayors, foreign dignitaries, military and naval leaders, and political figures. An integral and historical component of City Hall, many of the portraits have been hanging in the building for more than 200 years and most are in their original frames.

Although a few were accepted as gifts, the majority of the paintings in the collection were commissioned by New York City as commemorative acts and were accompanied by elaborate receptions in the Governor’s Room to honor the sitters. Most of the portraits were painted from life, though some were made by copying existing portraits or other depictions.

The collection consists of more than 100 paintings by some of the leading late-18th to mid-19th-century American artists, and exemplifies the evolution in style of early American portraiture. Highlights include Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1816) by John Wesley Jarvis; George Washington (1790) by John Trumbull, which was completed before City Hall was built; and the marquis de Lafayette (1826) by Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of Morse code.

To view the portrait collection, please make a reservation for a tour of City Hall.

The City Hall Portrait Conservation Initiative

Portrait of James Kent by Rembrandt Peale
The portrait of James Kent by Rembrandt Peale in the conservator's studio. In the forefront are some of the conservator's tools. Photograph by Glenn Castellano.

Between 2005 and 2009, the Public Design Commission, with the help of private donors, completed a comprehensive initiative to conserve City Hall's portrait collection and establish an endowment for its long-term care. A conservator, in consultation with an historian, conducted an in-depth study that outlined the history and condition of each painting and laid the foundation for a treatment plan. This project recognized the importance of preserving the collection as part of our cultural heritage for future enjoyment and viewing by the public as well as for scholarly study.

The Public Design Commission would like to acknowledge the generous assistance of Ken Moser, Chief Conservator Emeritus, Brooklyn Museum; Mary Beth Betts, Director of Research, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; and Toby Allan Schust, Designer,  without whom this project would not have been possible.

The conservation of the City Hall portrait collection was supported by a generous donation from CIT, the lead corporate sponsor, and the Peek Family Foundation.

This project was also supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.